Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Details Announced for AFROFEMONONOMY // WORK THE ROOTS Presented by Performance Space New York

Programming features “Last night, I dreamt I danced in the image of God.”, The Essentialisn't: Gold Taste,

Details Announced for AFROFEMONONOMY // WORK THE ROOTS Presented by Performance Space New York

Performance Space New York, with co-production partner New Georges has announced details surrounding AFROFEMONONOMY // WORK THE ROOTS, a group activation of Black femme theater artists in celebration of each other. Since March 2021, collaborators within AFROFEMONONOMY-including Lileana Blain-Cruz, Charlotte Brathwaite, Eisa Davis, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Deadria Harrington, Ayesha Jordan, Joie Lee, April Matthis, Jennifer Harrison Newman, Okwui Okpokwasili, Stacey Karen Robinson, and Kaneza Schaal-have been meeting in informal in-person and remote gatherings to explore Kathleen Collins' 1984 quartet of unproduced one-acts Begin the Beguine and Eisa Davis' musical performance work The Essentialisn't. Resonating throughout both works are questions of societal strains on Black women's physical and mental health as well as concomitant expectations of performance-questions the group engages through their own model of care and liberation. In a snapshot of this continuing, generative process, AFROFEMONONOMY will join in a global reverberation this spring of Kathleen Collins' texts in responsive visions-with performance, music, film, radio-across New York City and in Oakland, California, with works made in Norway and Senegal, and online.

The late Kathleen Collins, a visionary writer, director, and professor with a prodigious output of films, plays, screenplays, novels, and short stories, died of breast cancer at the early age of 46. Her premature death, mirroring those of other Black women writers such as Audre Lorde and June Jordan, begs the question of Black women's endangered health. Eisa Davis met Collins' daughter, Nina-who has ensured her mother's legacy for generations to come by securing distribution for Collins' breakthrough feature film Losing Ground, and by editing and publishing two books of Collins' writing-when Davis performed excerpts of Collins' short stories. As they strategized about how to bring Begin The Beguine to life, Davis organized a reading through The New Black Fest at the Lark-then brought the project to the artists of AFROFEMONONOMY.

Begin the Beguine Schedule Information

Begin the Beguine joins together four one-acts, each of which will be presented outdoors by AFROFEMONONOMY collaborators in locations across New York City, as well as in Oakland by Oakland Theater Project, in a synchronized world premiere.

The first, Remembrance (part of Downtown Live, presented by the Downtown Alliance in association with En Garde Arts and The Tank), features performances by Eisa Davis and Kaneza Schaal, with Jackie Sibblies Drury as the project's directorial consultant. It will take place in an arcade adjacent to the Stone Street Historic District (85 Broad Street) in Manhattan on May 16 at 6:30pm, May 22 at 1:30pm and 4pm & May 23 at 4pm (tickets available at

The Reading will come alive in the Courtyard at 122CC, the building housing Performance Space, May 15, 16, 22 & 23 at 2:30pm and 3:45pm, with a live offering created by Lileana Blain-Cruz, Amelia Workman, Kara Young, Gabby Beans and Jennifer Harrison Newman (tickets available at

On a Central Park bench in Harlem, April Matthis and Stacey Karen Robinson will share Begin the Beguine, an offering created with Charlotte Brathwaite, on May 15 at 5pm & May 16 at 2pm. And Joie Lee, Kaneza Schaal and Jackie Sibblies Drury will offer The Healing in a park in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Follow @Afrofemononomy on Instagram for more information on these performance offerings.

All New York performance offerings are free, with donations collected for the Black Women's Health Imperative. And in California, the Oakland Theater Project will present the entire series of one acts (co-directed by Dawn L. Troupe and Michael Socrates Moran) together as a drive-in theater production, May 15-July 3.

Schedule Information About Accompanying Installations

"Last night, I dreamt I danced in the image of God."

Created by Lileana Blain-Cruz

A space for dance, rest, and sustenance made for and in appreciation of black women

Dates: May 15, 16, 22, 23

Viewings: 12pm - 2:30pm & 4pm - 7pm

Location: Courtyard at 122CC, 150 First Avenue, New York, NY


The Essentialisn't: Gold Taste

Created by Eisa Davis with the artists of Afrofemononomy

Dates: May 29 - June 27

Viewings: Thurs - Sun | 12pm - 6pm

*Late Night Thursdays (3pm - 9pm): June 10, 17 & 24

Location: Keith Haring Theatre, Fourth Floor, Performance Space New York, 150 First Avenue, New York, NY

Ticket Information:

About Begin the Beguine and The Essentialisn't

Across Collins' trenchant, vulnerable, and disquieting works, Black women-many of them artists-push against the demanding and debilitating roles society expects them to fulfill. As Vinson Cunningham writes in The New Yorker, "Collins was, foremost, an artist and an interpreter of the striated psyche...Dispassionate inquiry, occult oddity, the search for understanding as an attempt at control, a wary but nonetheless ardent relationship with Christian imagery and thought" are "densely woven and excruciatingly resolved in Collins's one-act plays."

In Remembrance, a dancer, mother, and wife performs a personal séance of sorts, seeking to disentangle herself from life's mess of expectations and labels, to access God and some core form of self, in a cramped bathroom: "as mothers the world over would agree, the most sought-after retreat." In The Reading, tension fills a psychic's waiting room as an oversharing white novelist directs smalltalk into personal territory with a Black fashion designer, leading to a verbal and emotional duel that excavates deep disparities in senses of entitlement-to space, to being heard, to being loved. The subtly surreal Begin the Beguine seems to hover in time and space, as an actress mother and her adult son meet in a tree-less "space that resembles a park," wading-with song, dance, and floating recollection-through personal history, regret, and the burdens of performance placed on Black Americans. The Healing simultaneously locates intimacy and distance in one interaction, as a white healer performs a touchless energy massage on a Black woman seeking alternative treatments for an unnamed illness. All roles in the New York productions will be played by Black femmes, in keeping with the AFROFEMONONOMY collaborators' vision.

Eisa Davis' The Essentialisn't finds kindred themes with Collins' work as it conjures Nella Larsen, Jessie Redmon Fauset, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Carl Van Vechten as figures in an imagined sung-and-spoken meeting that circles around variations of the question: "Can you be black and not perform?" Alongside the one-acts by Collins and work by the other AFROFEMONONOMY artists, The Essentialisn't forms the basis of a free, in-person audio-visual installation, Gold Taste, in Performance Space New York's Keith Haring Theater, featuring the occasional surprise live sound interaction (May 29 through June 27; on view for minimal audiences, with timed entrances and COVID-safe protocols). As AFROFEMONONOMY continues their intertextual, interdisciplinary exploration over the next months-probing overlapping themes of performance of the role of the good Black woman, artist, mother, wife, and the potentials for liberation from and within them-they will document and open their process and the ideas it generates to online audiences via web-based radio programming. The AFROFEMONONOMY website, as well as the indoor and outdoor installations, will also feature short film works by overseas collaborators in Norway and Senegal. These public-facing offerings are artifacts of AFROFEMONONOMY's creative process that, through community care and liberatory practice, melts down systemic obstacles to their holistic health and wellbeing.

The members of AFROFEMONONOMY have collaborated in different configurations, gathered, and celebrated each other's work-but have never worked together as a group. WORK THE ROOTS brings these cross-genre, innovative artists, and their multivalent aesthetic and personal histories, together at Performance Space New York.

AFROFEMONONOMY, in a collective statement, says, "AFROFEMONONOMY // WORK THE ROOTS is an affirmation of how we as Black women, expected to maintain the world's health, can restore and not imperil our own. Black women absorb disproportionate stress and often develop a variety of risk factors, including higher early mortality rates with cancer and other diseases. Working inside the unsustainable economy and time structures of theatre making are often depleting for us. AFROFEMONONOMY // WORK THE ROOTS is a Black femme reclaiming of time and space, a model for restoration, a continuation of the lineage of our foremothers' formative presence in the downtown avant-garde. We claim our health and sovereignty, prioritizing our human needs, and translate the ease, free expression, and non-compulsory ethos of our informal gatherings to our working conditions and aesthetic."

Related Articles View More Off-Broadway Stories

More Hot Stories For You